After a month of campaigning and a day of voting, all eyes will shift to the Naxxar counting hall for the next, and most critical, phase of the 2022 general election.
Around 12 hours after polls close on Saturday, an unofficial result is likely to emerge but it could be early on Monday before the full outcome of the election is confirmed.
Electoral Commissioner Joe Camilleri gave an overview of the entire process which starts when polls close at 10pm.
7am on Saturday: Polling stations open
Polling stations open and the 340,423 people who have collected their voting documents will have the opportunity to cast their ballots at the local station, usually a school in the area. Some have already done so through early voting in recent days. A valid ID card and voting document is needed.
Sorting and counting
10pm on Saturday: Voting closes
Voting closes and the ballot boxes are moved to the Naxxar counting hall following a reconciliation process at each polling station. All the boxes, including those from Gozo, are expected to reach Naxxar by late Saturday evening, early Sunday morning. There will be a total of 742 ballot boxes in 116 voting centres.
A second reconciliation process begins upon their arrival at the counting hall and before the boxes are placed in the strongroom. Once this process is completed, the Electoral Commission will be able to issue the official voter turnout figure. This is expected to happen late on Saturday night or in the early hours of Sunday.
3am on Sunday: Sorting
The sorting process kicks off at around 3am. This process ensures that the number of votes found in the ballot boxes tallies with data supplied by polling station officials.
The boxes are then moved to 13 different tables, each assigned to the different districts inside the counting hall.
The boxes are then opened, the votes are taken out and placed face down. Unlike in the past, when votes would be put in batches of 50, the votes will now be placed in special boxes that are then stacked into the pigeon-holes.
Representatives from the electoral commission as well as the political party agents oversee this entire process.
Once all the boxes from all the districts are opened and sorted, there is a waiting period that gives time for more representatives to make their way to the counting hall before the counting process kicks off at 9am.
9am on Sunday: Counting begins
Counting could actually start slightly later, but not earlier, especially since the clocks are moved forward overnight because of daylight saving time and the Commission said it would be “losing” an hour’s worth of work because of that.
Before the counting begins, ballot papers will be turned face up and shown to the party delegates standing behind a Perspex wall.
At this point, the party agents monitor the ballots being raised by the counting agents in order to come up with their own estimates and samples. This data is then used by the parties to work out an unofficial result.
At this stage, party agents can highlight dubious votes, such as a ballot that has two 9s or some other problem.
10am on Sunday: Unofficial result
The outcome, although not yet official, is usually made public within an hour of counting, depending on the size of the gap between the two main political parties. The bigger the gap between the parties, the sooner the unofficial result is revealed.
Times of Malta will provide live results and updates from the counting hall through a special election live blog.
But while parties - especially the victor - are usually eager to announce the result, the official process continues.
For the first time in a general election, the counting process is electronic. After the boxes in the pigeon-holes are opened, these are moved to the scanners.
They scan both sides of every single document to not only count the vote but also verify that it is authentic since ballots are stamped on the back side.
Special commission officials, referred to as adjudicators, along with party agents, review these dubious votes and decide if they are valid or not. If the officials do not agree on this, the vote moves to the Commission for a final decision.
Unlike in the past, when there would have been multiple manual counts of the same vote to establish which candidate is elected, the scanner only scans the vote once. With a single scan, the device processes the preference given to the different candidates.
During the scanning process, the Commission as well as the big political parties – the smaller ones and independent candidates have been denied this – will have access to the data and will get updated figures every five minutes.
Throughout the day parties will have access to information that will help them predict who has been elected.
The parties can use this data to compare the figures to the sampling taken by the agents at the Perspex.
1am on Monday: Official result
The counting is expected to last until late on Sunday, with an official result for every candidate from each district from the Commission expected in the early hours of Monday.
This is when the results of the MPs elected across all 13 districts will be known. But the process doesn't stop here.
The following days: Casual Election
After the official result is announced by the commission, the casual elections process officially begins.
At this point, candidates elected from two districts will decide which one they want to represent, and drop the other district. Another candidate from the dropped district must be selected.
Candidates interested in contesting the casual election have a week to inform the Commission of their decision to contest the casual election.
The casual election process takes place to fill seats that became vacant by those candidates elected from two districts. Each candidate can only represent one district. The votes cast in the general election are automatically used during the casual election, meaning voters will not have to vote again but the ballots already cast will be used.
The casual election is then held around a week later.
Results from the casual election will be in hand within just a few seconds since, with electronic voting, the Commission has to simply access the data, pick the district and candidate dropping out and the system will immediately provide the name of the newly elected candidate.
Even later: Gender quota mechanism kicks in
Apart from the electronic voting there is another new element that will play an important part in this election.
That is thee corrective mechanism aimed at ensuring gender parity in parliament. The measure is backed by the two main parties, who have argued this will help with much-needed gender balance in parliament.
Under the new law, if no more than two parties are elected to parliament and one gender makes up less than 40 per cent of the available seats, a maximum of 12 seats, six on either side of the house, can be added.
These seats must be taken up by the gender in the minority, with those with the highest number of votes getting elected.
This process will only happen once the casual election is completed and a full list of elected MPs is known.
So it could be several weeks before the full make-up of parliament will be known.